Kavin Jayaram aka Kavin Jay would like everyone to know that he is not screening his stand-up comedy TV special, Everybody Calm Down, in the cinema. However, the 38-year-old comedian is embarking on his first national tour this weekend with a show called Kavin Jay: Anger Management in collaboration with TGV Cinemas.
One would imagine that, after the unexpected success of his Netflix special, which made it into the US-based streaming service provider’s Top 10 Best Stand Up rankings of early 2018 and beat the likes of Ricky Gervais, Marlon Wayans and Katt Williams, starting a new live tour would be a shoo-in.
But during a chat with Options, Kavin laughs and says, “It’s been difficult to get this show off the ground! Because it’s so soon after my special, people thought I was still doing that. Plus, I chose the cinema as a venue, which is a first, and people were confused. I’ve had some people tell me they were not interested because they thought I was just screening the same show. Others asked why I was not doing the same jokes, and some even went online to try to find my new Netflix show.”
For the record, Kavin will be visiting eight cities to perform live with fresh new material. The stand-up comic will be talking about making bad choices in life, alluding to the recent elections. “Since the change of government, it has become mainstream and somewhat uncool for comedians to do political jokes, since it’s no longer anti-establishment. But for the times, I have to reference it. It’s the biggest thing that has happened to Malaysia, maybe ever,” he says. “A lot of people made bad choices in the last election, and we ridiculed them for it, but we shouldn’t, because haven’t we all? I will be telling them about my bad choices, which are really quite bad.”
The funnyman excels in storytelling, and he certainly has some compelling stories, including the oft-shared tale of how his Netflix special came about. “I had flown back from Edinburgh and was jetlagged, but a few of us went to the shooting to help [Harith Iskander] work out some material. I wished him ‘good luck’, and he replied, ‘good luck too’. I was like, ‘What do you mean?’. Harith had told everybody that I was opening for him, except me! I had to do my routine in a T-shirt and torn jeans. He tried to lend me his jacket, but it couldn’t fit … Long story short, the producers liked my routine and I became the third act Netflix signed from Southeast Asia after Harith and Fakkah Fuzz. But it all happened so fast, I only had a month to prepare. It was a good thing that I already had some new material that I wanted to tour with.”
Kavin’s anecdotes in his stand-up routines would attest to how funny things can work out to be in life. A moving story is how his late brother had always urged the class clown to try doing comedy. Yet, his first stand-up show happened quite comically, and aptly so.
“I used to chat with girls online … and to impress them, I would say I was a stand-up comedian. Lie. But it seemed like a cool thing to be. Soon, some of the girls said they wanted to come to my shows, so I had no choice. I grabbed my cousin Andrew Netto and we gathered 150 friends at a pub owned by a friend, and we did a show … in August 2006, to be exact. He did well, I did really badly, and suffice to say, I am not in contact with those girls anymore,” quips Kavin.
Yet, he says comedy kept “sucking him back in”. Netto — a successful comedian in his own right — wanted to try an open mic event the month after and insisted that Kavin join him. While he did marginally better then, it took a lot more trial and error for Kavin to learn the ropes of stand-up comedy.
“I worked backwards. I’d go online to watch comedians like Rhod Gilbert and the Blue Collar Comedy. I’d go to Harith’s and Joanne Kam’s shows, and it was up to me to figure out why and how they do what they do. I broke everything down and deconstructed it to find out the set-up and punchlines. It took me a while before I got good at it,” Kavin recounts.
Through the open mic event, he met a few young comedians whom he would end up working closely with. He bonded with Papi Zak, Kuah Jenhan and Phoon Chi Ho and they decided to work as a pack doing guerrilla-style comedy. The group would make the rounds of pubs and bars around town, asking owners for an hour or so on stage.
Kavin cut his teeth during those two years, learning how to deal with an unimpressed audience, or the lack of any audience. It was also where he learnt that putting down hecklers was not a good idea — “Beer bottles come flying”. The turning point came when Time Out KL started Comedy Thursdays, which gave the group a regular platform and piqued the public’s interest in stand-up comedy.
From there, the former marine engineer eventually moved on to perform at Comedy Club KL, where he opened for international acts. When Crackhouse Comedy Club opened, he became a regular there too. Next month, a new comedy club, Joke Factory, will be opening in Publika, Solaris Dutamas, and Kavin is looking forward to have another venue to perform in.
“It’s an exciting time,” says Kavin of the Malaysian comedy scene. “I feel like the audience has grown as much as we have. When we first started, everyone was laughing at racial jokes, but now they want something deeper. People also appreciate more varied genres in comedy now. They still laugh at the easy jokes, but for it to be a great joke, there must be something deeper.”
Undeniably, the shift of focus to Asia’s comedy scene has also benefited Malaysian comedians internationally. “More than ever, Asia has taken centre stage,” observes Kavin. “Comedy is now more global than ever. Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, Ronnie Chieng ... I mean look at me, one moment, I was performing in Damansara and suddenly, I’m on Netflix. The diversity movement is our best friend right now.”
Sporting a shaved head and a full beard, the stand-up comic has milked the racial ambiguity of his appearance everywhere he goes. And having performed in some 30 countries, he is convinced more than ever that the world is essentially the same.
“Anywhere in the world, people have the same problems and issues, fundamentally. They have parents who beat them, parents who don’t, grandparents who are overly doting … it’s just the context that is different. The hard part is to phrase it for them. I think Harith in many ways showed me that Malaysian humour can travel. But while I’m talking about my experiences as a Malaysian, I talk about universal things. That’s why I love story-telling. Even with a different geographical background, I can relate to [the audience] on an emotional level,” he says.
It is also about being true to who he is, Kavin points out. “Truth is very important in comedy, I feel. People say comedians only deal with one emotion, laughter, but that’s not true. Great comedians take you through a roller coaster of emotions. It was only when I decided to just be my complaining self that comedy worked for me.”
As to where the goal post is now, Kavin says he does not plan beyond wanting to head to the “World Cup” for comedians — touring the US — in the near future. But one thing is obvious — he is not comfortable staying in the same spot for long. Perhaps because it has taken him a little longer than some to warm up, Kavin has got much more to complain about.
For more information on the 'Kavin Jay: Anger Management' live tour, click here. This article first appeared on July 30, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.